Spring Break by Elaine Marze

All across the country educational campuses are closing for the celebrated and anticipated Spring Break! In spite of high gas and airline tickets Americans will be heading to beaches and ski slopes singly, with families, and in school and church groups for fun in the sun or snow.  Realistically, some people will come home in worse shape than when they left.

When I was decades younger and heard “older” people say that they were not going to snow ski, roller-skate or go white-water rafting because they might “break a leg” I scoffed at such squeamishness and swore I would never be one of “them.” I hear my readers laughing at my arrogance and empathizing because once upon a time they said or thought the same way!  Ahhh, the blessed wisdom that comes with age!

At this time in my life I understand why it is the age 50-plus folks who often say, “Never say never.” We’ve also learned to listen to words of experience so budding snow-bunnies may want to pay attention so you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

The bright glitter off the snow was blinding from the morning sun when our church group gathered before a ski instructor for ski lessons the first time I went snow skiing. I was already tired from the struggle to get ski clothes on over two layers of thermal underwear I’d been advised to wear. (Bad advice.)  A well-meaning friend loaned me a set of hers, but since she was a foot taller than me, the crotch hung somewhere north of my knees so that when I walked there was a big wad there causing me to waddle like a penguin. It only worsened when I finally got stuffed into ski pants which were coated with some kind of moisture-resistant coating that made a swishing sound with every step. It sounded like in the “olden days” when I wore a girdle which made “swish-swish” sounds when my thighs rubbed together.  Between the big wad and trying to mute the “swish-swish” I really was walking like I had a saddle between my legs. Add trudging up stairs and across an acre of thick snow in heavy boots to the mix, and my energy and enthusiasm had diminished significantly. Adding to that, there was a slight aggregation because my tall and fit hubby was having none of the problems I was having.

Trying to get the skis connected to my boots while my non-athletic body squatted in what felt like a big padded diaper was frustrating. Those layers of long johns topped by stiff, water-proof ski pants were restricting the natural flow of my blood circulation.  One thing I’d already figured out was that I didn’t need those layers of thermal underwear because I’d worked up a sweat just clomping up the stairs in heavy ski boots.  I wasn’t about to make the return trip to change out of the thermals and have to once again struggle with all the equipment.

Equally frustrating was the fact that my naturally athletic husband was also a first time skier but seemed to have no trouble at all walking in 50lb boots and three layers of padding.  While my short legs kept sliding in opposite directions than my body was heading, his longer legs weren’t trying to escape his hind-quarters the way mine were. I had already expended a lot of my body’s capacity for physical vigor trying to roll from my back to my belly to my knees while attempting not to put out my eyes or those of any passersby with skies and ski poles. The potential damage I could do with the ski poles had people of perception slip-sliding out of my reach! It was a wonder my supportive and loving husband could stand up so well on his skies since he was laughing so hard his balance should have been in jeopardy. All this and I was just trying to get in line for the lesson!

Finally, held upright by Mr. Sensitivity until I could stand alone, I was ready to be taught how to gracefully and expertly ski down the slopes as so many others were doing. Because I had wallowed on my backside in the snow so many times before making it to the line-up, there was a layer of ice attached to my clothes.  It was disconcerting to hear snide comments and giggling quips about, “Snow Woman,” and “Pillsbury Snowball” from alleged, (former) friends. I figured it would all melt pretty soon because my struggles to stay upright in all that thermal had caused my body heat to reach maximum degrees.

It was a windy day on the mountain side. This might not be a problem for some people, but I am totally deaf in my left ear, and that was the side the instructor was standing on as he told us what to do and how to do it. In plain-speak, I didn’t hear a word he said.  I just watched my fellow classmates and imitated what they did. I wasn’t too worried about not hearing the instructions because I figured I’d just do what everybody else did.

When it finally came time to get in the chair lift for a practice run down the baby slope, my short legs caused me to have to do a high-jump to even get my posterior within landing distance of the fast-moving lift.  I don’t do high-jumps very well when I’m in my birthday suit. Considering that I was wearing layers like a wedding cake, I didn’t stand a chance of getting in that thing with any kind of grace at all. You are supposed to load two or three skiers in each chair but on the first attempt, I landed with one ankle hooked over the back of the lift while the ski on that foot got tangled in the mechanism. Actually it was a good thing one foot ended up there because it was all that was keeping my prostrate body clinging to the chair. The rest of me was pretty busy trying to untangle the cluster of poles and skis.  It was amazing in a way. I didn’t know my body had the physical dexterity to do contortions of that variety. The two people who had lined up to get on the chair with me decided they would wait for the next chair although I was determined to get off the lift with a lot more grace than I got on it.

My determination to get off gracefully did not exactly play out to the reality of the situation, but I like to think that the way I rolled out of the chair at the getting-off-place at least impressed on-lookers with the amazing poise with which I crawled out from under the swiftly moving lift on all fours while gathering skis and poles from their various landing places.

Never one to let little obstacles hold me back from accomplishing that which I have decided to do, when the instructor finally pronounced us ready to ski the big slopes I made it to the head of the ski lift line ahead of my group so I was the first one on the lift.  Admittedly it had nothing to do with expertise since I happened to already be at the end of the line on the top of the hill leading to the lift so I had an advantage.  Or, if you went by my husband’s nonsensical explanation, it was because everybody else was afraid to follow too close lest I take them out along with myself in the likelihood I fell and rolled like an avalanche.  (Comments like that are why I sarcastically called him Mr. Sensitivity.)

As I got on the lift (somewhat gracefully in my opinion) our son, Daniel, slipped expertly in beside me. Proudly, I pointed out to him that I was right-side up and skis horizontal to the ground, and we enjoyed the view as we waited to get off at the top of the mountain.  The closer we came to our destination I got a little nervous about the getting off part, but when I jumped out and landed standing up I was just about to exclaim with pride when I realized that the snow had become packed and icy from all the skiers, and for some reason I kept going once my skies touched the landing pad. I was gratefully amazed to be upright in spite of the speed in which I was flying down the slope. It was the closest to flying I’d ever do this side of heaven!

Daniel was skiing beside me yelling something, but he was on my left side so I couldn’t hear what he was saying plus the fact that I was all caught up in skiing like an expert – flying so fast my hair was blowing straight out behind me.  Skis close together and straight out!  What I didn’t know then was that was the position for “very fast”! If somebody is new at skiing or they don’t want to fly off a mountain because they are going too fast to turn with the curves, they spread their legs out to form a V-shape, but I missed that part of the instructions. As I sped down the slope at the speed of light, I could hear my husband and friends screaming my name from the ski lift above, but I just waved because I couldn’t pay them any attention while I was caught up in the indescribable feeling of hurling down the mountain like a speeding bullet!

Unfortunately reality had to rear its ugly head; this time in the form of the ski resort restaurant which seemed to be my destination. As I got closer and closer to the glass-walled restaurant at the bottom of the slope I noticed that people were grabbing their food and equipment and scattering while sending stunned looks my way.  My first thought was that they were impressed by my ability and speed, but it gradually began to occur to me that if I didn’t stop soon, I was going to be crashing through the glass into the restaurant. As fast as I was going, my mind worked faster as it dawned on me that I didn’t know how to stop!  Not only that, but I didn’t know how to slow down. The scenario was kind of like a sci-fi movie where the monster is coming and people are scattering and running for their lives except that these particular folks were running from me.

You would have thought it would have occurred to me to just fall down.  But it didn’t.  What did register about then was the panicked screaming of my name, and the worried look on my son’s face as he was motioning me to do I didn’t know what, was starting to set off alarm bells. Then out of the corner of my eye I saw a large man skiing right into my path.  He didn’t see me above him because he was watching the restaurant patrons clearing out, running like scared rats.  I should have yelled, “Fore” or “Idiot” or something, but I didn’t.  The next thing I knew was a great big SPLAT, and I was the “splatee” because when I came to, my family and friends were all around what they thought was my cold, dead body. We’ve all heard of car wrecks where a person’s clothes are torn off from the impact? Well, my goggles and contact lenses were found 10 yards away, and the rest of my equipment came to rest across the mountain.

Thank God and all my padding, the man I hit was a doctor.  A big, big man who wasn’t feeling real friendly toward me at the time, but he did his duty and examined me for concussion and broken bones as soon as he was helped up and put back together by observers. Actually, he should have been thankful because at least the EMT’s didn’t have to haul him down on a sled-stretcher like they did me!  Finally on the last day of our stay I was able to limp (with help) into the same restaurant where I nearly became embedded, and that was where I watched my family and friends wave as they skied by.